If I had to pick just one author who inspires me more than any other, my pick would be F. Scott Fitzgerald.
A disrupter in his own right, Fitzgerald wrote about the American Dream at a time — much like our own — when many were struggling in a challenged economy. He wrote about class and class conflict at a time when there was massive disparity in wealth, casting his characters as people capable of rising above their station to achieve success on their own terms.
Fitzgerald believed that in America you can get ahead with hard work. He wrote about characters taking their fortunes into their own hands and working with their own abilities and imaginations to become greater versions of themselves. He coined the term “Jazz Age,” and his work is suffused with the glitz and glamour of that time, full of characters reinventing themselves amidst the bustle of the “Roaring 20’s.”
Fitzgerald was a man born between classes. A descendant of F. Scott Key (the writer of "The Star Spangled Banner"), he grew up attending prep schools with the upper class, but privately his family struggled. He was the poor boy in the rich school, like many of his characters, caught between the luxuries of the upper class and the struggles of his own. He attended Princeton, but due to poor grades, he was forced to drop out and join the Army. Then he achieved fame and success with the product of his own imagination, his writing. He reinvented himself again and again as a student, an army officer, a socialite, writer, and screenwriter.
Arguably Fitzgerald’s most important work The Great Gatsby, epitomizes this class struggle, and highlights both the triumph and tragedy of the American Dream. Gatsby, a product of the lower class, reinvents himself as a flamboyant millionaire, capitalizing on Prohibition and spending his life attempting to become a better version of himself.
Fitzgerald has direct ties to my home state of Kentucky. Daisy Buchanan, the love interest from The Great Gatsby, was a debutant from a fictional version of Louisville. Fitzgerald often visited the real life Louisville with his wife Zelda, as it was one if the few places — thanks to local distilleries and well-hidden speakeasies — during the 1920s where you could safely get a drink. The Fitzgeralds were a part of the flamboyant social scene in Kentucky’s own Roaring 20s hot spot.
The Great Gatsby also has a connection to Rubicon. The film’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio is an investor in Rubicon, and has made Fitzgerald's work exciting and relevant to a new generation. Rubicon itself is a product of the invention of imagination. We turned trash from a commodity into something cool, merging the gritty industrial end of waste and recycling with the glitzy industry of technology.
Like Fitzgerald and Gatsby, I’ve always been a dreamer. Even now I work to be better, and to constantly strive to be the best of all those I work around.
As we kick off my Holiday Reading List for 2020, Fitzgerald is right on the top of that list. He found fame and fortune as a writer of books, short stories, and screenplays in spite of his humble beginnings, and he wrote about America as an aspirational oasis, where people of every class or creed could become better than their current station.
Sadly, he died 80 years ago this month way too early at the age of 44. I invite you to join me in celebrating the life and career of this great American writer.